• Ellen Sun

Once Upon A Digital Marketing Time – stories to the Chinese consumer

Updated: Aug 27, 2019

Below picture appeared in Linkedin last week, and got me into thinking.



In fact, there is a Chinese equivalent from 2,000 years ago, “don’t talk about ice with insects that only live in summer.” Certainly, we cannot expect Sheldon to understand intimacy, and Penny to understand, well, lots of other things.

However, does this mean communications would be difficult in the absence of specialized crowd? My answer is not necessarily. There is a motto in the professional service industry – an expert is someone who can get complex ideas understood by any targeted audience. This is usually referred to as effective communication, and it takes years to practice. After working alongside elites from legal and marketing fields over a decade, below are some observations on how to breach the digital market with your story.


1. Know your audience

To sell the idea to a person, you have to know “only a bit more” – talk about experience with newbies; speak of methodologies with the experienced; discuss boundaries with experts, and explore philosophies with masters.


Take consumer market for example. The Chinese economy has proliferated vigorously over past years, thanks to 4G and mobile devices which make the world easily accessible at a fair cost, and inevitably, this fundamentally upgrades the expectation of general public. Both Jackie Ma and Zeng Ming, the Chief Strategy Officer of Alibaba have spoken in several occasions that the new business model is C2B (i.e. personalization), whoever can execute this well will be the future business leaders. Indeed, many Chinese consumers are no longer satisfied by owning massively produced products, instead, we desire for distinction. According to the brief “Consumption in China: Ten Trends for the Next 10 Years” by Bain and Company[1], companies selling to Chinese consumers will need to improve their ability to create data-driven personalized offerings.


2. Shape the message

When more and more 90s, 00s and even 10s joining the spending class, how to tap into the youngsters’ minds has been a rather heated discussion. Comparing to their parents, the new generations tend seek more spiritual guidance in an unique Chinese way.


Shanghai is the first city that impose mandatory garbage classification starting from July. Researches have shown that the tag “we know how to sort out the trash” yields better social behavior than “casually dispose trash harms the earth”. This opening line helped smooth my recent conversations with friends and clients from the city.


More importantly, shape the message in a story style may lower recipients’ guard. The English writer Samuel Taylor Coleridge once emphasized that story-telling can create a suspension of disbelief for events or characters that would ordinarily be seen as incredible. Today, the utilization of big data and artificial intelligence yield numerous cold facts and analyses, but with a human touch, the concepts can become vivid and more meaningful. In the consumer world, being subjective can be more powerful than being objective, because it embraces personal interpretations and perceptions, which could get the audience to feel more empathetic.


3. Find the right person to tell

Influencer marketing by Key Opinion Leader (“KOL”) is the recognized new trend and this term might be inter-changeable with the term Wang Hong (person to has high internet exposure). Interestingly, to me, the first person that truly foster this concept is an Olympic athlete – Fu Yuanhui.

Olympic athlete – Fu Yuanhui

In 2016 Rio Olympic, at the national TV interview after Women’s 100m Backstroke Semifinal, Ms. Fu said she had “used the power from times of great antiquity” with her melodramatic gesture, this expression went viral immediately and Ms. Fu has more than 7.4 million followers on Weibo today. Her words, wearing and habits are greatly influential and therefore carry high commercial value. Earlier this year, Ms. Fu guest stared in a reality TV show and reaped high viewer rate. Her followers all describe her as being “forthright and sincere”, “hardworking”, “not pretty but cute” etc. We can see that the consumers feel cordial towards those shares similar background, experience, body figure and facial features. Buyers pictures and user experiences are becoming valuable intangibles for the sellers. When choices are overwhelming, a true story teller can make the differentiation.


Michael Margolis, CEO and founder of storytelling training company Get Storied once said, "Story is your ultimate currency. You are trading on your story. This is why people buy your message, or buy your product, or even hire you to do a job."


After all, Amy got Sheldon to propose and wanting to have children, Lenard got Penny to read on string theory. There is always a way to get people to connect, if your story gets the trick.


Every brand has a story, if you would like to deep dive into the Chinese consumer market, HOOLU Technology is here to help tell yours in Asia.


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